Day 217: Songs For The Deaf

05.08.09: Frederick offered me a lift over the border on his bike, so at the cock’s call, we were hurtling towards Niger at a great rate of knots. There is a good 20km between the border guards and the border runs down the middle, so there was no bureaucratic tomfoolery to cause me problems. Once past the sign welcoming me into Niger, we rode for another half a K, just in case they had put the sign in the wrong place, I got off the bike, looked around for a bit and then we turned around and came back. I don’t know what Niger is, or what it does, but I’ve stepped foot on its soil. A perfect border hop, methinks. On the bus on the return journey to Fada N’Gourma, I sat with a couple of deaf guys who were from Liberia. One of them…

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Day 216: The Land of Honest Men

04.08.09: Once dawn had crept up on us unawares, the driver finally took us to our destination. A bus journey to the next town and then – as there were no buses to the border, we hopped on motorbike taxis to the imaginary line that separates Benin from Burkina Faso. In a stroke of genius rare in the political elite of Africa, the late Thomas Sankara (Tom Sank to his mates) changed the name of Upper Volta to Burkina Faso in the mid-eighties. Why? Well because it means The Land of Honest Men. As any educational psychologist worth their salt will tell you, if you tell someone they are bad over and over again (as my teachers often did to me), they will eventually think – oh well, if everyone says I’m bad, I must be a bad person, so it’s my nature to do bad…

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Day 215: Ben In Benin

03.08.09: An exceedingly frustrating day – first up, the Niger embassy was closed because it’s Independence Day over there at the moment. It’s going to be closed tomorrow as well. So I went to the Benin Direction Immigration Emigration office and tried (and failed) to get hold of this mythical five-country, Francophone visa that is alluded to in the Lonely Planet. Funnily enough, there were a couple of other backpackers who were trying to get their hands on exactly the same thing. If only it ACTUALLY EXISTED. But it seemed to the Benin authorities that we were the first people to ever ask for it. And me and these other people all just happened to get there on the same day. Hmm… Anyway, Ahmed from Germany, Eve from The Netherlands, and I would be frustrated in our attempt to escape from Benin today. Even the American…

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Day 214: Togo-A-Go-Go!

02.08.09: I had a chance to charge up my batteries and check my e-mails for the first time in godknowshowlong. There was no way of progressing past Benin before the embassies opened tomorrow morning, so I was in no particular rush to get there. I decided to check out the market and get my beard trimmed. You know at the end of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ when Belle kisses him and he turns into the prince? Yeah! Then Tanko’s nephew took us out for a quick jaunt around Accra. We headed to the Memorial Park only to find out it was €75 to film in there, so we went to the castle instead – only to discover that filming is banned outright. If in doubt, always find something to eat. We went to the Ghanan version of McDonalds and stuffed our faces with hamburgers and chips.…

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Day 213: Rockatansky!

01.08.09: Aja and I had a good chat over breakfast about the future of Cote D’Ivoire. She says that she’s as optimistic as she can be about the elections in November – it’s as if the whole country is holding its breath until then. As for the ‘What The Hell Is Wrong With Africa’ question, her take on the matter is that most people who want to leave (which is like pretty much everyone) have no realistic concept of what Europe is like and so it can – and does – take on an air of a fantasyland in which you can pluck money from the trees and the streets are paved with gold. The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Of course, the reality is very different. Aja was lucky enough to visit London a number of times when she was younger so she could see for…

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Day 212: Wined and Dined in Cote D’Ivoire

31.07.09: I. LOVE. COUCHSURFING!!!! Sorry, just had to get that off my chest. Now, where was I? Oh yes, Danané, Cote D’Ivoire. Got to the bus station for 6am. The minibus didn’t leave until 7.20am, but for West Africa that’s LIGHTING FAST. We headed out along some of the best roads I’ve seen since Morocco – DUAL CARRIAGEWAYS! Armco Barriers! Road signs that TELL YOU WHERE YOU ARE!! My word. They weren’t joking when they said that Cote D’Ivoire was once one of the richest countries in the whole of Africa. Not now it isn’t, though. Too busy fighting over who gets to squander their country’s future on flashy German cars, holiday homes in the Azores and sending their kids to Oxford. The life’s ambition of horrible men with diseased minds who don’t care how many children have to die as long as they get to…

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Day 211: Into Rebel Territory

30.07.09: The driver fixed the tyre around 3am and we got into Ganta ten minutes later. I tried to check into a hotel for a few hours, but the cheapest place wanted €25 for a grotty little room that I wouldn’t pay a fiver to stay in even if it came with a Vimto lollypop. I really don’t understand how they can justify charging these ridiculous prices, in a country where most people survive on less than a dollar a day, who the hell can afford to stay there? It’s not like there’s a ton of tourists passing through these parts. Gah! So I headed over to the shared taxi area, asked them to wake me when the taxi was full and slept in the passenger seat. In the end, it was taking so long to find anyone else who wanted to head on to the…

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Day 210: V is for Visa

29.07.09: Shadi woke me up at the reasonable time of 7am and I made ready to do my thang – first off to the bank for readies (which I couldn’t get for love nor, indeed, money). I ended up converting my emergency CFA, the currency that most countries in West Africa use (except for the awkward Anglophone colonies that insist on printing their own money (sound familiar?)). Then, off to the Cote d’Ivoire embassy – which had recently moved – so I spent a good couple of hours walking about trying to find the damn place. Monrovia, like Freetown, is devastatingly impoverished – everything is in a state of half-repair – the roads, the buildings, the people. Most of the small businesses in the embassy area are shacks at the side of the road and many, many people listlessly stand about, as if waiting for the…

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Day 209: His Darkest Days

28.07.09: The popcorn was sweet. Just like Sierra Leone. I sprung out of bed at the unholy hour of 4am, because that’s when I heard that the bus left for Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. When I got to the ‘bus station’, there was no bus, but to be fair, there was no station either. So I paid for a spot in the bush taxi for the border (I was the first to arrive and so I bagged the front seat) and waited for the damn thing to fill up. It was after 9am before we left. I could have had a lie in. Ack! But none of that matters, because I bought some popcorn from a lady sitting at the side of the road. Homemade and in a polythene bag, joy of joys: IT WAS SWEET. And fresh. Oh yeah. I decided there and then,…

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Day 208: The Brain Drain

27.07.09: It was an early start as I left the comfort of Paul and Helga’s place, said my hearty cheerios and headed to the Liberian embassy to buy myself a visa. I arrived at 8am and the Liberian embassy (it was literally someone’s house!) wasn’t quite open, and I accidently managed to wake everyone up. In the Lonely Planet guidebook, it indicated that it would take fifteen minutes to get my visa, but they asked me to come back at 2pm. I explained that I was in a bit of a rush and asked if they could ring me when it was ready, which they said they would do. Nice chaps, actually. If some ginge had woken me up at 8am on a Monday morning, I would have made chips out of him. While they were processing my passport, I headed into town to see how…

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